Against gravity

Benches, chairs, rocketships

Originally posted at The Charnel-House.

James Kopf recently alerted my attention to an article by Emily Badger addressing “The Humble Public Bench,” on the redesign of a number of public benches in Boston.  “Benches: the new chair?” he asked.  

The WA Chair by designer Katsuya Arai, Boston (2013)

The WA Chair by designer Katsuya Arai, Boston (2013)

What follows are a few thoughts in response to this question.

Above, one can see the benches mentioned in the article.  The sleek, aerodynamic appearance of the benches Badger describes is something I’m oddly familiar with, having worked in an office building down at 1 State Street in Manhattan.  Outside the entrance to South Ferry, the nearest Metro station, there are a number of benches working along the same modular lines, albeit in a slightly more distended, elongated form.  Every time I’d exit the subway walking toward the grim black tower where our office was located, I’d pass them:

The benches at South Ferry in Manhattan

The benches at South Ferry in Manhattan

In either case, the author of the article briefly glosses the social and ideological role played by benches in the urban built environment.  It’s a serviceable enough treatment, even if it slips into rather shallow moralizing toward the end:

The public bench has long been a mediator between cities and their citizens. A pleasant, functional park seat communicates to pedestrians that they’re welcome to linger, to treat public spaces like communal living rooms. Just as often, though, cities have been accused of deploying intentionally uncomfortable street furniture, angular benches with unnecessary guardrails dividing them to dissuade homeless loiterers and overnight guests. This second class of benches communicates something quite the opposite to residents: Move along, you’re not welcome here.

Certainly, there is something more to the communitarian ethos Badger leans on here than she lets on.  Perhaps it’s the case however, that this is more indicative of a bygone nineteenth- and early twentieth-century liberalism (such as Ebenezer Howard and the Garden City movement)  that valued public works and artificially-engineered enclaves of “nature” breaking up the stark perpendicularity of the modern metropolis.  To be sure, this was a progressive sentiment in its day.  But today it’s all too often just a forlorn glance cast back at a time before predatory neoliberalism came and swept it all away — leaving all but the swankiest park facilities in various un-upkept states of disrepair and neglect. Read More

Instruction #3: Let Kirk Kill your television and watch with the new Landru

320x240I want you to imagine Captain Kirk beaming into your living room and attacking your flat screen digital TV, to imagine he’s doing it in an effort to set you free from the constraints of early 21st century barbarism. He’s killing your television by asking it to solve some unsolvable logic problem. Kirk is whispering the liar paradox to the DVR.

It’s always the same with Kirk. He beams down and outfoxes a computer God, or kills a robot girl with a kiss, and his time it’s your television he’s after.

Imagine your set is sputtering, about to explode, and then it switches on. For a brief instant, just the time needed for a flicker of light to appear before the set goes dark forever, a television program appears onscreen. What’s on the TV? What would does your television turn to in its last effort to figure out a solution for Kirk’s riddle? The answer is Star Trek, obviously, because Star Trek itself is a kind of Technicolor logic bomb. Your TV set is probably showing the episode with Captain Pike and the Orion Slave girl because that’s the one I’d choose.

Kirk understood the show and used his understanding to kill computers. In the second season of the original series, in an episode entitled I Mudd. Kirk explains his own show in order to kill an android named Norman.

KIRK: What is a man but that lofty spirit, that sense of enterprise, that devotion to something that cannot be sensed, cannot be realized but only dreamed! The highest reality.
NORMAN THE ANDROID: That is irrational. Illogical. Dreams are not real. […]
(Smoke comes out of Norman’s head.)

Back in 1986 William Shatner appeared in a comedy sketch on Saturday Night Live and told Trekkies everywhere to get a life. In the sketch he asked Jon Lovitz if he’d ever kissed a girl and told the crowd of SNL cast members playing the part of Trekkies at a Star Trek convention to leave their parents’ basements and experience the real world.

getalife-16“I mean, for crying out loud, it’s just a TV show! I mean, look at you, look at the way you’re dressed! You’ve turned an enjoyable little job that I did as a lark for a few years into a COLOSSAL WASTE OF TIME!” Shatner shouted.

Shatner could never kill a computer. He doesn’t understand how people use BLAs like Star Trek to live their lives, how some of us even use Star Trek to kiss girls. It sounds impossible, but you really can take your enjoyment of Star Trek quite a long way. In fact, the first time I realized just how far was, coincidentally, my first time.

I was in my girlfriend’s parent’s old house, a house that they couldn’t sell after they’d moved out, but she still had keys and we were in the empty space that had been an upstairs rec room. There wasn’t any music playing, nor electricity, and we didn’t have anything to drink that might lubricate our coupling. What we had was the Star Trek Edition of a Golden Trivia game. I was in my girlfriend’s parent’s old house, a house that they couldn’t sell after they’d moved out, but she still had keys and we were in the empty space that had been an upstairs rec room. There wasn’t any music playing, nor electricity, and we didn’t have anything to drink that might lubricate our coupling. What we had was the Star Trek Edition of a Golden Trivia game.

Before we got around to intercourse on the wall to wall orange carpet, doing it on the spot where the entertainment center had left a indentation, we asked each other questions about M class planets and the Federation. Rather than grope and undress, rather than struggle with the clasp of a lace bra or the buttons on the fly of a pair of blue jeans, we played strip Star Trek Trivia. We were geeks and this seemed natural to us. We found a way to use our mutual affliction in order to get off.

“Why did Kirk display such inordinate love and affection for Dr. Helen Noel?” she asked me.

“Who? Which episode was that?”

“Do you know the answer?” she asked. I didn’t, or pretended that I didn’t. I ended up giving her my left sock, but, for the record, the answer, per the back of the card, is this: “Kirk was under the influence of a powerful suggestion implanted by use of a devilish machine.” The episode was the Dagger of the Mind and the machine was called a neural neutralizer.

Star-Trek-Cosplay-Girls-19Consider this, Sigmund Freud considered Star Trek to be a kind of fetish and  repetition compulsion.

Okay, he didn’t really. He died before Star Trek was ever on the air. But if you google the words fetish and repetition you’ll find a link to a book called Fans, Bloggers, and Gamers: Exploring Participatory Culture. More specifically you’ll find a link to this passage:

“Neither the popular stereotype of the crazed Trekkie nor academic notions of commodity fetishism or repetition compulsion are adequate to explain the complexity of fan culture.”

But this assertion simply underestimates the complexities involved in both fetishism and repetition compulsion. Fetishism and repetition compulsion can produce Baroque results, and can certainly explain most of the more faithful fan tributes to the series.

For example, last summer I took the family to Cathedral Park for something called Star Trek in the Park, and watching the reenactment of “Journey to Babel,” seeing Portland actors, hipsters dressed in perfectly authentic uniforms complete with wavy stripes on their shirt cuffs and with perfectly reasonable facsimiles of a Tellarite pig nose or Andorian antenna when necessary, was a queasily religious or fetishistic experience.

The Atomic Arts Ensemble delivered the lines from the original episode and typed into invisible computer panels, their fingers wiggling methodically in thin air. They stared at a view screen that wasn’t there, stared through empty air out at me, and I experienced something like Déjà vu. The repetition of “The Journey to Babel”, the uncanniness of the Atomic Arts reproduction, unsettled me.

Adam Rosko played Kirk for Trek in the Park, and he was perfect. He did an especially good job when he fought the Andorian. He perfectly replicated Shatner’s fighting techniques, and watching him I stopped thinking or comparing. I didn’t have to think.

Rosko grabbed his blue opponent by the shoulders, fell back, and used his right leg to flip the alien onto his back. Then Rosko rolled onto his stomach and dove for the alien’s right arm, for his right hand which held an Andorian dagger, but the alien rolled over onto his belly and stood up. The Andorian tried to wrench his arm out of Rosko’s grip and then used his left hand to deliver a Karate chop which sent Rosko reeling. The Andorian turned on him and lunged with the knife. Rosko as Kirk dodged to the right and, when the alien swiped at his head, Rosko both ducked and brought up his knee, delivering a blow to the Andorian’s belly. The alien bent over in pain and Rosko delivered Kirk’s signature double fisted blow to the alien’s right side. He then jumped at the alien, using both feet and delivering a double kick, but ending up on his back. Rosko rolled over and started to slowly crawl away on all fours (too slowly, what is Kirk waiting for?) and the Andorian grabbed him by the neck and stabbed him in the right side. Was this the end?

Of course not. Rosko reached back and flipped the Andorian over his left shoulder. And when the Andorian got back to his feet and reached for the knife that had flown out of his hand, Rosko was on him fast. Rosko kicked the Andorian in his face and knocked him out cold. Then Rosko flopped against a pole and used the Intercom prop to call the bridge.

star-trek-in-the-park-1c0c096fad02d561“Bridge? Spock? I’m on Deck Five, near my quarters. I’ve been attacked by an Andorian. Security…”

Freud says that the sensation of the uncanny arises when what is familiar is made to appear unfamiliar, and what I experienced when Rosko fought like Kirk was precisely that unfamiliarity of the familiar. It was the perfection of the repetition that unsettled me and made Star Trek seem strange again.

Here’s an experiment: Try repeating the same word over and over again like a mantra. Take any word. Better yet, try the word Spock.

Spock. Spock. Spock. Spock. Spock. Spock. Spock. Spock. Spock. Spock. Spock. Spock. Spock. Spock. Spock. Spock. Spock. Spock. Spock. Spock. Spock…

After awhile the word, the sound of it (or the look of it on the page or screen), will separate from it’s meaning, and all that you’ll be left with is an empty shell. If you say the word Spock often enough all you’ll be left with is the detritus of the name. Spock himself will disappear. Through repetition Spock can cease to be Spock. Through repetition Spock can become something mysterious and unknown. Spock can become uncanny.

To really understand what a fetish is and how the fetish relies on a repetition watch episode seven of the original Star Trek series. It was entitled What Are Little Girls Made Of and on the show the Enterprise sets off to rescue a man named Doctor Korby. Korby was lost during an off world expedition to the ruins on the planet Exo 3, and when the Enterprise arrives Kirk discovers that Korby is living underground with a bunch of life like replicants. Korby learned the secret of the underground ruins and used the ancient technology there to fashion himself friends and servants. After Kirk arrives Korby tries to convince him that these android doubles represent a step toward immortality. These doubles are a triumph, another victory for human reason, another step forward toward enlightenment and away from bodily corruption, but as events unfold Korby reveals himself to be a villain. He has one of his androids, a giant named Ruk left over from the days of the Old Ones, murder several red shirts. Worse he duplicates Kirk and attempts to take over the Enterprise.

Typical, isn’t it?

Eventually we come to know that Korby himself is an android. The real Korby duplicated himself right before he died, and when the duplicate Korby is revealed as an android the effect is uncanny. Korby is a machine, and when this is revealed he becomes pathetic. Nurse Chapel, Korby’s former lover, recoils.

korbyKIRK: You were a man with respect for all things alive. How can I explain the change in you? If I was to tell Earth I was in your hands, to tell them what has become of you (Kirk jumps Korby and traps his arm in a door. The skin tears to reveal electronics.)
KORBY: It’s still me, Christine. Roger. I’m in here. You can’t imagine how it was. I was frozen, dying. My legs were gone. I was, I had only my brain between life and death. This can be repaired easier than another man can set a broken finger. I’m still the same as I was before, Christine, perhaps even better.
CHAPEL: Are you, Roger?

It’s a creepy scene. It’s not just that we come to see this new Korby as a robot, but that we can’t stop ourselves from seeing him as also human. The revelation of Korby’s double fundamentally undermines the integrity of the original.

If a fetish is going to keep working it’s creepiness and inauthenticity has to be denied, if not unknown.
We have to pretend to be authentic in order to keep pretending, and to do that we have to find someone who is innocent, somebody who is authentic, who will believe in our fetish for us. That’s what Barthes was looking for in his essay on the Death of the Author, while in the Star Trek episode the dirty job fell to Kirk:

KIRK: In here, Spock.
SPOCK: Captain, are you all right? Nurse? Where’s Doctor Korby?
KIRK: Doctor Korby was never here.

But, Korby was there. It’s just that he’d turned himself into a robot. That’s a pretty messed up thing to do, of course, but it is also perfectly normal. It turns out that beaming a robot is the only way to become human.

Another French Marxist, a nut job named Louis Althusser, explained how this works in his essay Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses. He wrote:

althusser“Ideology represents the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence.”

Notice that he’s doubling up on fantasy in that line. Althusser wrote that an ideology is not just some imaginary myth a person believes, but rather it’s the myth people believe explains why they believe in myths. An ideology is not some false picture of the world but our false picture about our false picture.

Take the notion of God. An ideology isn’t the belief in God but the explanation of this belief. The obvious one about God is that we believe in him because he’s up there in heaven, and while he’s pretty much inscrutable he’s giving us some basic ideas and helping us to believe in him. However, another ideology about God wouldn’t take God to be really up there at all. An atheist ideology would explain God to us by suggesting that we’ve been manipulated by a caste of ancient priests, kings, or authors. It’s these rulers who foisted a believe in God on us, and they did it in order to control us. Why? Because they’re bastards.

Or, taking a different point of view, an ideology might explain our belief in God by blaming the world itself. Life on Earth is filled to the brim with toothaches, irritable bowels, plagues, killer bees, and people like Justin Bieber. Living in world like this one requires people imagine a God in heaven. Who wouldn’t fantasize about God when faced with the plague? There are no atheists in foxholes. And no one remains Godless after they’ve been made to watch reality television programs like The Biggest Loser or Jersey Shore. The reality of living in and off this kind of filth and debris pushes us into a God delusion.

But Althusser wanted to get past all of these explanations. He wrote that ideologies are simply necessary. Ideologies are fantasies that support our relationships with each other and these false pictures give us our very identities.

Think of it like this:

An ideology is a picture we take of the world and then pretend is real. We do this by ignoring the camera we took the picture with and all of the other mechanisms and relationships that had to exist in order for that camera to land in our hands.

A 1972 a documentary advertisement or promotional film for Eastman Kodak and polaroid spelled it out.


“Since 1942 Edward Lamb and Polaroid have pursued a single concept, one single thread, the removal of the barrier between the photographer and his subject.”

This idea that a photograph could be taken without “any barriers between the photographer and his subject” is the idea behind every BLA, every robot, there is. It is also the goal of James Kirk in episode after episode. He lands on a planet, discovers that there is a barrier between the people on the surface and the society they’re living in, and sets off to kill or remove the barrier.

SPOCK: This is a soulless society, Captain. It has no spirit, no spark. All is indeed peace and tranquillity. The peace of the factory, the tranquillity of the machine. All parts working in unison.
KIRK: And when something unexplained happens, their routine is disrupted.
SPOCK: Until new orders are received. The question is, who gives those orders?
KIRK: Landru.
SPOCK: There is no Landru, Captain, not in the human sense.
KIRK: You’re thinking the same thing I am. Mister Spock, the plug must be pulled.
SPOCK: Sir?
KIRK: Landru must die.
SPOCK: Captain, our Prime Directive of non-interference.
KIRK: That refers to a living, growing culture. Do you think this one is?

People_festival_2In the episode Return of the Archons Kirk and his crew discover that the citizens of planet Beta are mindless automatons. They are perfectly pleasant, if a bit placid, most of the time, but occasionally, on the instruction of an invisible voice, they erupt into a riot. Kirk arrives a few minutes before one of these cathartic festivals and witnesses the smiling denizens of Beta transform into shrieking hysterics who beat and fuck each other in the streets.

The trouble is that the people of planet Beta are under the control of a figure named Landru, and Landru is a computer. Kirk is nearly assimilated into this “body” but manages to kill the computer instead. Kirk demonstrates to Landru that the computer itelf is a contradiction. The computer is working against its own programming simply by following the program. Landru’s effort to create a sustainable and harmoniously balanced society has created a stagnant society instead, and Kirk puts it to Landru that Landru should destroy itself because the computer’s efforts toward harmony creates disharmony. Landru follows the logic and self-destructs.

However, once Landru is destroyed a new order, a new mechanism, has to be established if life on Beta can continue. Kirk calls in the Federation to establish a new world order for the colonists. He destroys one barrier and then quickly erects a new one, and all the while he assures the colonists that they will love this new barrier because they’ll find it isn’t a barrier at all.

port5Paradoxically, Kirk both understands the paradox and doesn’t. There is no real and natural life. The people of Beta will always need a Polaroid Camera, a computer like Landru, or a show like Star Trek, if they want to be able to leave their parents basement and manage to kiss a girl.

Instruction #4: Talk Into the Neural Neutralizer (rough)

Derrida in Ghost Dance 1[What follows is a rough draft for a proposed book on Star Trek and Capitalism.  This is the final part of a section called "How to Watch Star Trek."]
The Frenchman who we should really blame for these instructions, for the necessity of explaining what should be easy, didn’t call himself Marxist at all but, instead, was the first deconstructionist. It was Jacques Derrida who argued that meaning always had to be deferred, and that it was impossible to arrive at a meaning for a show like Star Trek because of the sheer density of meanings that the show contained. I don’t know if Derrida ever watched the show, but if he had he would have probably said of Star Trek something like what he said about ghosts in the 1983 experimental film “Ghost Dance.”

He was asked if he believes in ghosts and he replied: “That’s a difficult question. You’re asking a ghost whether he believes in ghosts. That is, since I’ve been asked to play myself in a film that is more or less improvised I feel as if I’m letting a ghost speak for me. Rather than playing myself, without knowing it, I let a ghost ventriloquize my words, or play my role.”

Now, clearly Derrida was very good at smoking a pipe and acting mysteriously brilliant, but in this case the mystery can be solved. Derrida’s point was that he was never fully present. It connects to his idea that every text always contains elements which oppose its meaning. This is what deconstruction was all about. Deconstruction was about finding these traces of opposition everywhere, in big ideas like Marxism, in pop stars like Madonna, and in philosophy books. Everything could be exploded because everything contained a bit of its opposite.

Now, if this seems confusing to you be comforted by the fact that you’re not alone in that feeling. Derrida was so confusing that many people, even other big intellectuals, were pretty put out by him.

url-4For instance, the sweater wearing anti-Capitalist superstar Noam Chomsky once wrote that, “Derrida […] writes things that I also don’t understand. No one who says they do understand can explain it to me and I haven’t a clue as to how to proceed to overcome my failures. That leaves one of two possibilities:
(a) some new advance in intellectual life has been made, perhaps some sudden genetic mutation, which has created a form of “theory” that is beyond quantum theory, topology, etc., in depth and profundity; or
(b) … I won’t spell it out.

But I’ll dare to say that Derrida wasn’t a fraud, but rather that he was, like Barthes, trying very hard to kill the Blinking Light Aliens that kept popping up. What Derrida was on about was pretty much the same thing as what Barthes focussed on when he went after the Author. It was by and large the same target as what Nietzsche went after when he smugly proclaimed that he found God’s body laying dead in the marketplace.

In order to understand how these oppositions in a text like Star Trek can be worked out, in order to stop worrying and realize what is simple and what is complicated, you have to understand something fairly complicated first. The meaning of our lives, the context which history appears, the way ghosts like Derrida and Barthes and Karl Marx are to be understood, isn’t something we have to discover, but is rather something we can’t avoid creating.

url-3In the episode “Dagger of the Mind” the Enterprise transported needed supplies to Tantalus V, a rehabilitation colony for the criminally insane. Things go wrong, as they usually do, after one the inmates from the colony manages to sneak aboard the Enterprise. He stages several frothing and scenery chewing rages and is eventually captured and discovered not to be an inmate at all, but a member of the staff at Tantalus V. The escaped inmate is really Dr. Van Gelder and (according to the chief officer and head doctor at Tantalus V) he is a victim of an unfortunate accident with a neural beam. Kirk decides to launch a follow-up investigation of the incident and Doctor McCoy assigns the psychiatrist Dr. Helen Noel as Kirk’s technical aid on the away mission due to Noel’s experience with rehabilitative therapy.

This episode is, strangely, the one and only time Christmas is mentioned in an episode of the original Star Trek. When Kirk meets Noel on the transporter pad she mentions a Christmas party.

Noel: Dr. Helen Noel, Captain. We’ve met. Don’t you remember–the science lab Christmas party?
Kirk: Yes, I remember.
Noel: You dropped in–
Kirk: Yes, yes, I remember.
Spock: Problem, Captain?
Kirk: Mr. Spock, you tell McCoy that she had better check out as the best assistant I ever had.

Here’s the full plot of this “Christmas Episode”:

url-1Kirk discovers that the lead doctor at Tantalus V, Dr. Adams, is using a neural neutralizer on both the inmates and the staff in order to control and subdue them. When Kirk arrives with Helen Noel he is met by the unctuous head doctor who gives them a tour that includes a short inspection of the neural neutralizer. Kirk sneaks back to more thoroughly examine this machine (it looks a bit like a heat lamp) and tests the device on himself.

You probably already know what the neural neutralizer is or have a sense of it. A portable version of the mechanism is featured in the Men In Black films. Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones use a pen sized neutralizer to blank a person’s consciousness and implant false memories. The neutralizer on Star Trek does the same thing, and in order to discover the full implications of dangers involved Kirk puts himself in the hotseat. He goes under the beam while Dr. Noel is at the control panel.

url-2Kirk: I have no desire to damage my brain. Can this be handled with reasonable safety? Yes or no?
Noel: Yes.
Kirk: And will you be able to determine if that beam is harming me in the slightest?
Noel: Yes, Captain. I know my profession. Ready?
Kirk: Mm-hmm.
Noel: We’ll try minimum intensity–a second or two.
Kirk: Anytime you’re ready, Doctor, just for a second or two.
Noel: We already tried it for that long, Captain.
Kirk: Nothing happened.
Noel: Something happened. Your face went completely blank.
Kirk: Try a…harmless suggestion.

Let’s pause on that, leave Kirk under the heat lamp and waiting for Noel to implant her suggestion. Instead of continuing on with Star Trek I want to turn instead to one of my earliest Christmas memories. It dates back to 1977, back to Kindergarten.

I was six years old and I was selected to play the part of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer for our classroom production based on the Rankin/Bass television special. I recall the wooden trunk that contained the reindeer costumes; I imagine I remember it as being painted with off white paint and having gold trim. The teacher dragged it to the front of the classroom and I became excited as she pulled out antlers and leather head bands decorated in jingle bells. Everyone of the children in Miss. Dendot’s Kindergarten class wanted to a set of these new appendages but there were maybe 17 or so of us and only eight reindeer: Dancer, Dasher, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, and Blitzen.

urlSitting on the orange carpet, a little narcissist who was sure the world revolved around me, who knew that whatever was happening was staged for my benefit, I watched with my legs folded as Miss. Dendots hand out the antlers to the others. Each time that I was passed over for some other Kindergartener, each time I was rejected, I felt as though I’d received a blow. When all the antlers were distributed, and I realized that I was not going to be a reindeer, I felt as though a judgement on my character had been rendered.

“Everybody is going to get a part,” Miss Dendots told us. But, I didn’t want just any part. I didn’t want to be an elf, or the Abominable Snowman, or anything else. I wanted to be a reindeer. Besides, it turned out that she was lying because I was passed over each time this time as well. She handed the elf hats to other children. I wasn’t going to be the elf dentist or Santa or Mrs. Claus and I wasn’t given the snowman mask. Soon enough everyone had a prop or a costume and there were only two of us who were still empty handed.

The teacher held up what seemed to be a red superball and a pink bow.

So, to return to Doctor Helen Noel and the neural neutralizer, she was about to make a suggestion to Captain Kirk.

What Helen Noel suggested was that “something different” happened between them after the Christmas party. She starts to describe their tryst in order to recast it a different light when she is interrupted. Doctor Adams catches them in the act, in two acts actually, and he intervenes. But, before that Doctor Helen Noel started to describe the Christmas party, and what she said can be interpreted in at least two different ways.

url-5Here’s her suggestion to Kirk: “At the Christmas party…we met. We danced. You talked about the stars. I suggest now that it happened in a different way. You swept me off my feet and carried me to your cabin.” But what does this mean? We, the viewer, is left with a choice. We can either believe that nothing happened at the Christmas party originally but that she wishes it did. We can suppose that she’s suggesting her own sexual fantasy to Kirk, or we can take it that she is retelling what actually did happen but, perhaps in a more romantic light. Perhaps her intended suggestion never arrives due to Doctor Adams’ intervention? In fact, we aren’t given a clear picture of what happened at or after the Christmas party. In fact, we’re forced to read it both ways. On the one hand if they did have a tryst then why does Noel describe their original encounter as having ended with Kirk talking about the stars? Why does she unfurl the story of their return to his quarters as something she’s adding to the original story? On the other hand, if they did not have tryst then why did Kirk seem so uncomfortable when he ran into her on the transporter pad at the outset of the story?

This is, perhaps, how Roddenberry and company make us complicit in the lurid fantasy of Kirk and Noel’s intergalactic coupling. This contradictory suggestion that brings forth the image can also always insist on its own innocence. In any case, before Helen Noel can complete her suggestion she is discovered. Doctor Adams finds her at the controls of the neural neutralizer, and he has his assistant subdue Doctor Noel while he takes over at the microphone.

Adams: Captain Kirk is going to have a complete demonstration. I want there to be no doubts whatsoever in his mind.
Noel: Mmm.
Adams: You’re madly in love with Helen, Captain. You’d lie, cheat, steal for her, sacrifice your career, your reputation.
Noel: No, Doctor! No!
Adams: The pain–do you feel it, Captain? You must have her, or the pain grows worse, the pain, the longing for her.

Here’s the thing: Kindergarten is an introduction to the public realm through puppets, the alphabet, the days of the week, and your peers. In school you are taught how to deal with other children, how to navigate adults, by using the things you’re given in the classroom. The pencils and worksheets are tools used to get the teachers to relax and stop worrying about you, the crayons, scissors and paste are the ways you to get talk about television with your friends, and rubber balls and jump ropes are the tools used to either ward off or implement physical violence.

Or take show and tell, it was a kind of self-presentation. I recall bringing in a mouse shaped piggy bank. It had mostly cartoon like features: his ears were big like Mickey Mouse’s ears, but his hind legs were shaped a bit more realistically. My mouse had buck teeth and might have really been a rat because he had a long rubber tail that was always cold to the touch. He was covered in a layer of blue felt-like material, the same stuff they used to coat the heads of a drinking bird toys only blue and not red, and I recall that I managed to rub the blue material off around his hands and ears just by playing with him. I’d grab his ear in the same spot to make his head swivel, and put coins in his upturned hand. But when I brought him to the classroom and shook out the pennies inside him, wiggling them out through the slat on his back, nobody noticed the bald patches or irregularities. Instead, the unanimous opinion was that my mouse was cool.

Being selected to he Rudolph was even better than being recognized as the owner of a cool piggy bank. While the toy was merely what I wanted to be, being picked out as Rudolph defined me as me. The teacher’s judgement was official and she’d named me Rudolph. She’d given me the lead.

The red rubber ball was actually a rubber clown nose and when I put it on I found that it smelled bad. There was a sort of chemical smell inside and that smell filled my nose whenever I wore the nose. Also the device pinched and was uncomfortable. Still, when I was given the choice to use red face paint instead I refused. This extra appendage was what made me Rudolph and as bad as it smelled, as uncomfortable as it was, I wasn’t about to give that up. How could I break up the set? A little blonde girl whose name I’ve now forgotten but who I’ll call Jennifer had received the pink bow at the same time that I’d been given the rubber nose and she was my girlfriend, or Rudolph’s girlfriend, in the play. In the Rankin/Bass version Rudolph has a girlfriend.

Once this little girl was chosen by my kindergarten teacher I felt that I really did like her. Of course, there was nowhere for this attraction to go. I didn’t have a birthday party coming up and I didn’t even think of inviting her to my house for a play date–but I tried to be near her in the classroom, to continue on being Rudolph to her Clarice. I was disappointed when, at snack time, she sat with the boy in the brown pants and not by me. Even though, or because of, the fact that my relationship with Jennifer was entirely a construction I felt hurt by what I was her rejection. It wasn’t just that she didn’t like me, or preferred this other little boy, but maybe I didn’t deserve the part, but why had I invested so completely in the little play?

The answer might be made clear by recalling how the fantasy of the Christmas party was created on Star Trek, or how the neural neutralizer supposedly worked.

Simon Van Gelder: Our minds so blank…so open…that any thought he placed there became our thoughts. Our minds so empty…like a sponge, needing thoughts, begging.
Empty. Loneliness.
So lonely to be sitting there empty…wanting any word from him. Love? Yes. Hate? Yes. Live. Yes. Die. Yes. Such agony to be empty.

So the point here is that, for Derrida, there was no such thing as a neural neutralizer. No matter how powerful the setting on the blinking light he always held onto the possibility of there being some trace of something, something that couldn’t be neutralized or erased. But that trace, that part of an idea that or a word that has to be there in order for a thought or meaning to seem to be present, isn’t itself some thing. These Blinking Light Aliens aren’t really out there in the world, hidden away in underground fortresses or stored in plastic globes. The meanings of a show like Star Trek, meanings that seem easy and obvious, the meanings that allow us to think, they’re just the words we are speaking into this blinking light.

proletariat_unite_by_party9999999-d3136ldThese meanings and all the contradictions that come along with them are really just our own actions. No matter how hard we try to act like geeks and just enjoy our lives, we can’t help creating Authors, Blinking Light Aliens, evil computers, Star Ship captains, and all manner of other ideas.

The trick, when watching Star Trek, is to recognize that the show is just a way we are talking and then to seize hold of words you can understand and use them to understand even more.